Senior-laden Badgers aim high

Blake Jenkins

With 11 seniors on the roster, Berkshire’s baseball team has raised its expectations for the 2021 season.

The Badgers, who return four starters from 2019, also have a versatile roster with a versatile pitching staff and are eager for a shot at the Chagrin Valley Conference Valley Division title this spring.

“We return four guys who played significant time at the varsity level in 2019. Those guys are a staple in being leaders on and off the baseball diamond,” said Berkshire coach Nick Burzanko. “We have a big senior class and our expectations are high. Guys are putting in the work and following (COVID) protocols just so they have the chance to play this year. We expect to compete for a CVC championship and hopefully make a deep run into the tournament late in the year.”

Berkshire finished 12-17 overall in 2019.

Covid canceled the 2020 season and has had an impact on the preseason.

“It has been a process,” Burzanko said of the offseason preparations. “We are blessed at Berkshire to have a lot of live arms and some good mix of righties and lefties. Being able to play guys all over the place is a luxury. Starting lineups will look different probably every day and the pitching rotation has a lot of upside with three lefties in it.”

While Burzanko has an idea of how the pieces will fall into place this spring, he still has a major issue to solve.

“Our biggest challenge is numbers,” he said. “We have 21 guys total and 11 of them are seniors. We are blessed with a lot of guys being able to play a lot of different positions, so depth isn’t really a problem when it comes to that, and like I said previously, our pitching rotation is pretty deep so I think we are built for a great year.”

The Badgers will rely on that large senior class to set the tone for the rest of the squad.

Along with a solid pitching rotation, Burzanko is confident that senior leadership will rise to the challenge early in the season as the younger players learn their roles and develop as ballplayers.

“Having that many seniors that have been in the program is a huge help to developing the younger guys,” Burzanko said. “Our pitching rotation, I think it’s a big strength. Having a mixture of lefties and righties isn’t really seen much in high school baseball, so I believe we have an advantage there. I also believe our hitting will be one of the better (lineups) this year.”

Even with nearly a dozen seniors on the roster, the Badgers are relatively young as only a handful of those players have varsity experience.

Overcoming that weakness will have a lot to do with the amount of success the Badgers enjoy this season.

“Although we do have 11 seniors, some of them are seeing varsity time for the first year,” Burzanko said. “We only return four guys that have had varsity innings, so early on in the season, we need to get our feet wet quick and get adapted to varsity speed. I would say Inexperience in some positions will be a weakness to start. Another weakness I think, like a lot of teams, will be just lack of playing games and trying to get the rust off from not playing for a year other than summer ball stuff.”

Despite those challenges, Berkshire likely will have one of the most veteran lineups in the area.

The entire projected infield is made up of seniors with Garrett Bosse behind the plate, J.T. Bergmeier at first, Seth Jokinen at second, Jake Brown at short and Brian Brent at third. Seniors Blake Jenkins and Evan McDermott will play in center field and right field, respectively, and sophomore Jack Jacobs is slotted in left.

Senior Chris Groudle and sophomore Max Janssen will split time at the designated hitter spot.

“This year’s group has played together for many years and most of us have had varsity experience since we were underclassmen,” Jenkins said. “I expect to be a winning baseball team that could make a run in the playoffs.”

Bergmeier enters the season as the ace of a deep pitching staff.

“I expect us to compete at a high level and be in the running to win the CVC this year,” he said.

Brown, Jacobs, Brent, Janssen, and Jenkins also will see time on the hill.

The two sophomores—Jacobs and Janssen—earned their way to playing time this spring.

“(Jacobs) will play outfield and first base and be in the pitching lineup. There’s a lot of upside to a kid who puts in the work in the offseason,” Burzanko said. “(Janssen) will play outfield and first base and be in the pitching lineup as well. He has a lot of upside and is one of those lefty throwers with a right-handed bat.”

Burzanko is confident in his seniors and eager to see his younger players develop and embrace the opportunities in front of them.

Yet, Berkshire’s ability to reach its goals will come down to players making plays and pitchers hitting their spots.

“We have a senior-heavy team with a lot of experience among returning players with key contributions from talented underclassmen that will help us win games this season,” Brown said.

Chagrin Valley Conference